Depression on the rise, disparities remain in West Michigan healthcare

GRAND RAPIDS — A new report on healthcare trends in West Michigan presented by Grand Valley State University showed continuing disparities in healthcare and found delayed care has led to an increase in poor health outcomes.

GVSU hosted its annual West Michigan Health Care Economic Forecast event Friday, Feb. 3, featuring data and findings from its report. Erkmen Aslim and Daniel Montanera, assistant professors of economics from the Seidman College of Business at GVSU, presented key findings during a panel discussion.

The annual West Michigan Health Care Economic Forecast from Grand Valley State University was held Friday, Feb. 3, 2023.
The annual West Michigan Health Care Economic Forecast from Grand Valley State University was held Friday, Feb. 3, 2023.

The report analyzes several healthcare trends in the KOMA region, which includes Kent, Ottawa, Muskegon and Allegan counties.

Panelists were MDHHS Director Elizabeth Hertel, Brandon Francis of Trinity Health St. Mary’s, Ronald Grifka of University of Michigan West and Alejandro Quiroga of Corewell Health West Michigan.

With data from the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and vaccine rollouts available for analysis, Aslim discussed the delaying of care for non-COVID health matters.

“More than 30 percent, close to 40 percent of individuals, delayed care in the US during the pandemic,” Aslim said. “Delaying care or forgoing care not only increases morbidity and mortality risk associated with treatable and preventable disease, but it can contribute to excess deaths directly or indirectly related to the pandemic.”

There are multiple factors that likely led to delayed care, Erkman said — a mixture of patients wanting to avoid contracting and spreading the virus and hospitals postponing and rescheduling appointments due to capacity constraints.

A study of vaccine rollouts showed a steep decline in delayed care once vaccinations for COVID-19 became available, Aslim said.

The decline was seen for all individuals, but showed more benefit for minority groups and those with lower socioeconomic backgrounds, Aslim said, noting there could be a link between medical innovation and reducing pre-existing healthcare disparities.

“Moving forward, we should be thinking about whether we can have certain regulatory processes that accelerate the approval of vaccines in a safe manner," he said. "There are important policy implications here.”

Much of the data in the report explores disparities in healthcare among different racial and ethnic groups, genders and socioeconomic statuses.

Grifka pointed out that, according to the report, non-white individuals more often reported being uninsured, not having access to care due to cost, and not having routine checkups. He added those with lower socioeconomic status have lower rates of insurance, fewer healthy months per year and higher rates of depression.

“I’m detecting a trend here and I hope you do, too. This is certainly very concerning data,” he said. “There are certainly disparities in healthcare. We see if you’re in the KOMA non-white residence or in the lowest socioeconomic residence, your chances of having really optimal healthcare is markedly reduced compared to the rest of our population.”

Montanera said that, in addition to poor outcomes caused directly by COVID and indirectly by COVID through delayed care, mental health issues could present a “third wave” of poor outcomes.

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He said there was a 20 percent increase in the number of people diagnosed with depression in KOMA in 2021.

“Those who had existing risk factors for mental illness and poor health outcomes, those were exacerbated (by COVID-19),” he said. “We didn't see much of an prevalence of depression increase in the Detroit region, but a 20 percent increase in the KOMA region could be a signal to us that the KOMA region is particularly vulnerable to a third wave of poor health outcomes from the coronavirus pandemic.”

The 2023 Health Check, along with previous versions of the report, is available on the GVSU website at

— Contact reporter Mitchell Boatman at Follow him on Twitter @SentinelMitch.

This article originally appeared on The Holland Sentinel: Depression on the rise, disparities remain in West Michigan healthcare